Last month, I was thrilled to learn that my girls
and I had been granted “permanent resident” status in
Canada. It’s been almost 3 years of administrative
backlog since we submitted our applications. I was
relieved that, after all this time, there were no more
delays of even minor proportions.
London has been home to my family for more than four years. My two youngest were 4 and 5 when we came, so their memories of life in Cincinnati are few and fading. They speak in centimetres and Celsius; snow is a largely welcome fact of life, as they throw on snow pants and boots with ease to greet each snowfall.
As familiar as life in London has become, it is still a significant milestone to achieve official “immigrant” status. With each year, we will become less “American,” and more “Canadian.” Yet, like the many non-Londoners and non-Canadians in our community, we will always be “from somewhere else,” a minority among a majority who are different from us.
This minority, immigrant status has been a part of Jewish identity in most lands and times where we have found ourselves. Where we were not immigrants, we were usually still a minority. Where we have been a
majority, even in Israel, we are still largely a community of immigrants. “Otherness” and “Jewishness” often go hand in hand.
Since I came to Judaism as an adult, I have experienced the minority portion of my identity differently in each season of my life. In my 20s, I began as a minority of one in my family as I began the journey of
building community as a Jew. In Washington D.C., there were many Jews, but in the companies where I worked, the dominant culture was still the secular Christian majority typical in North America. With little
knowledge of Jewish holidays and celebrations, I struggled to feel a part of a broader community. In my 30s I began to work full-time in the Jewish community, eventually pursuing the rabbinate. But as a Jew whose childhood was virtually untouched by Judaism, I was a minority once again.
Now, as an official “immigrant,” I have a new minority identity. As a congregational Rabbi, I rarely want for a sense of community within Judaism; in fact, I am immersed in Jewish life in a way few of us are able to achieve. Once again, however, I come from somewhere and something different. I don’t spell like everyone else. For the first time in my adult life, I am the one with an accent, albeit a subtle one. As similar
as London, Ontario, seems to my childhood home of Lansing, Michigan, the simple truth remains that I am not exactly the same as my Canadian neighbours, wherever their origins.
During the winter holiday season, with the Christmas celebrations that permeate our media, retail, and communal culture, “otherness” becomes a unique challenge. Whether we love, hate, or are indifferent to
the Christmas season that unfolds around us and often within our extended families, this time of year is always a touch point for Jewish identity. We are each defined in some way or another by our families’
So, as we celebrate another year of our own winter festival of light, let us embrace the many wonderful messages of Chanukah and its rituals. We can be proud of our people’s survival throughout history and
geography. By “publicizing the Chanukah miracle” with our menorahs in our windows, we can be a symbol for pluralism and religious tolerance. “Otherness” need not equate to isolation when we are blessed to live in a free society like Canada’s.
As our candles grow in number and brightness each night of Chanukah, may our spirits be ignited as well. The light of freedom burns brightly for us all. Let us be inspired to share its glow with everyone, at home and across the world.
Rabbi Debra Dressler